West Virginia had the Texas defense on its heels to open the second half of last week’s competitive contest. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard completed two darts to set the Mountaineers up inside the Texas 35-yard line.
His sights set on extending his team’s 17–13 lead, Howard took a three- step drop and danced around in the pocket, looking for an open receiver. He thought he had one in junior Ka’Raun White. Sophomore safety P.J. Locke III proved otherwise.
Locke jumped the route and stepped in front of White before he completed his 10-yard button hook. He reached out to snag the ball and held on for the second interception of his career.
But the plays the Texas defense didn’t make weighed more heavily on Locke’s mind than the ones that they did in a heartbreaking 24–20 defeat on home turf.
“We came down [to] just a few plays that we didn’t make,” Locke said. “And that was the result in the game.”
The Texas defense, though, has made plenty of plays en route to showing slow but sure signs of turning the corner under head coach Charlie Strong. Locke has been in the mix on multiple of them.
Three weeks ago against Baylor, sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd tipped a pass several feet upward. Locke tracked it down and made a diving catch to secure his first career interception.
Later in the game, senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. stripped a Baylor ball carrier. Locke recovered the fumble near his own goal line, preventing a Bears’ touchdown. Both takeaways proved pivotal in a 35–34 victory.
“We all came together,” Locke said. “I’m proud of my team for that. We get a stop and we expect offense to score. If the offense doesn’t score, we’re going to get the ball back.”
Texas has generated 11 turnovers in its past four games. Since Strong took over defensive play calling duties, his unit has forced 16 turnovers. The Longhorns came away with one turnover in four games under Vance Bedford’s command to start the season.
And though the Texas offense has only 10 points to show for the 16 turnovers Strong’s squad has produced, he echoed Locke’s sentiments, saying it’s still imperative that his defense continues to get off the field.
“We have to get the ball back for our offense,” Strong said. “Because if we get the ball back for our offense, we’re going to be able to generate points.”
This week, Locke and company have an opportunity to have a field day in getting their teammates on the other side of the ball back onto the turf. Kansas ranks dead last in the FBS in turnovers lost; the Jayhawks have coughed up the rock a staggering 31 times.
But Locke and his teammate aren’t overlooking the Jayhawks. Junior safety Jason Hall said he prepares to play every game as if the opponent was the same.
“You can’t let the outside factors affect you,” Hall said. “You’ve got to just stick to your craft and just focus on what you have to do and just believe that you’ll be able to execute it.”
Locke said he knows Kansas will test the Longhorns, especially after TCU barely escaped Lawrence, Kansas, with a one-point victory in October. Road wins have been hard to come by for the Longhorns no matter where they’re playing.
“You’ve got to put them away early because this team has nothing to lose,” Locke said. “You can’t just leave them hanging around.”